One of my more amusing titles, I think, but that's what Matthew calls one's human negativity, one's "mess." Simply, "your shit." No nobility to a samskara or to a hindrance, simply that which is to be cleared away. It fits, I think. "Ah yes, ok, this is just my shit."
Here I mean to write a more proper workshop review. The pattern is this: morning meditation, 30 minutes. We do a Vipassana style sit and then a few minutes of Metta Bhavana (loving kindness) and then we bend. Practice window is until noon, and it takes me until at least 11:30 to get through Primary plus one. I've been moving slowly here, as I have, for the first three days, been dealing with a lot of "my shit" in practice and in the meditation sessions.
Afternoons are 2-5, meditation practice and discussion. Discussion has gone everywhere from not being the body, to feeling sensation being "female" while spaciousness is "male," to bhakti, devotion and how to deal with the word "God" (and as Matthew put it, "without bringing your shit to it"), to ethics and how feeling in the body is related to the Divine and thence to ethics (for example, eating various different things makes you feel different, and you can eventually make what are ethical decisions, based on how you feel, and even, eventually, how what you eat causes you to react (or not to react) to people), to the ladder of "sensing a thing, being aware of a thing, being able to choose how to react to that thing," rather that just reacting to a stimulus, right away. This is what Yogananda would have called the "sense telephones," being called all the time by the sense telephones.
A lot of it is interlinked, of course, and it's great, but it's hard to describe. In a way, getting all of this on meditation from Matthew is like when people say that listening to Richard Freeman will make your head explode.
Yesterday we got as close as we ever have, to chakras. Matthew told us that there are three sort of "sense centers" in the body: the core, the juicy pelvic sort of energy center, that maybe is golden in color (svadisthana chakra, although he never said that), you know, "the gut." Then the heart, inter-relations, relations with others (anahata). Then the third eye, the relationship to the Divine, and all of the sensations we have (even silence, non-sensation) is the Divine speaking to us. The body as Divine vehicle. And then Matthew went on to say that the granthis, the three knots, are ways that we prevent ourselves from having full sense of ourselves and thus sense of our Divine nature. And it easily and logically followed, once laid out like that, that we are the divine, not "the human" or "ourselves" or any idea of this kind. The divine speaks through sensation; a couple people in our group have even heard the "divine sound," which is a kind of friendly tinnitus (hah!) and so there was some discussion of that (I've never had that and can't speak clearly about it).
And all of that happened in about 20 minutes of a three-hour session. It's really really dense and pretty amazing, the stuff we cover. Some people tune out, it seems, but that's cool, you come, you listen, you see what you take away.
Yesterday Matthew had us concentrate on the upper lip, a concentration exercise that I find frustrating (it's easy, but I get distracted from it as easily, and it's our standard opener, so much of our meditation practice has been frustrating for me, which has become a sort of meditation on frustration) and then move to "the brain," and I actually felt my attention turn toward that organ, which was itself very cool, because the opening question is, "wait, where the hell is my 'attention' if I can turn it on my own brain? who the fuck is thinking here?" but it was unnecessary to answer that, so I didn't. I went with the exercise, which was to imagine that each thought was a bubble and to "pop it" as it showed up. I did this with relative ease. It worked MUCH better for me to do this "pop the thought bubble" exercise than to do "observe each thought," because my thoughts are colorful and graphically interersting and compelling and then I'm thinking and I've forgotten all about meditation. But to pop each one, a certain act of negation, THAT was easy. And in what seemed like a very short time, thoughts stopped appearing. Black, silent. Actually quiet. I lost track of my hands, my body, the people in the room, how big the space was. Totally lost all sense of orientation. But it wasn't dizziness or disorientation or drunkenness, it was just the weirdest quiet in the world. And then of course it was gone, but it was there long enough for me to compellingly recall it.
Matthew says that this sort of point is "space," which is the other "half" if you will of "sensation." Space is Vedanta, sensation is Tantra. One can overlay a Shiva/Shakti thing there, a male/female thing. And in the afternoon session yesterday, Matthew told us that the whole point here is not to detach, but to become aware. So don't get lost in the sensation or the space, just be aware, because really, you are awareness (Purusha, Brahman, and so on, all of those concepts). And then Matthew is really big on love, and says that love comes more easily (for him anyway) from the sensation road than the space road but that both go there.
Ah, and one spooky thing: Matthew said, about "space," about negating thoughts, that one of the ideas is that you can look into a mirror and annihilate the image. That's one degree of non-you that can be achieved. I liked that, not because it's "badass" (although I am drawn to things that are badass, that's what my love of spaghetti westerns is attached to also), but because it instantly reminded me of my long-term suffering here over identity and "2008 me" versus "now me" and in fact that's what I talked about when Matthew asked us for our "learning edges." I said that basically I wanted to be who I was and not who I am, and I'm cleaning up all kinds of pain and resentment and other shit. This would be over-narrativizing, but if you read here over the past, say, two years (since about mid-2010) you'll see a slow, painful progressive acceptance of this idea that I'm not that person and never was, even when I "was" that person, when I was merging deeply with that identity, climber/lover/ashtangi. I don't know if anyone reads closely enough here to see the progression, but I feel that since 2011, I've been on an identifiable line of thinking and realization; my writing and choice of topics isn't all over the place, but is sort of narrowing and focusing and working and reworking a thing, and it's in a way about this new identity that never solidifies, the idea that one's "being" is service, is teaching, is dharma, is householding, without ever becoming a sort of proud, "I AM A HOUSEHOLDER!"
And also (and I'm about to run out of time here as I'll have to drive over and meditate and bend) many many posts here are written in first-person agony as I deal with "my shit," that's what the first two posts about this workshop are.
All of my writing from 2009 is written in that mode; there might be a post or two, but not many, that are not loaded with pain, but most of them are written like that.
This "shit" that I'm dealing with is, as I put it in a Facebook post yesterday (and on that, I think that the 500-word window over there is a really good limit for forcing myself to condense, to really get to the point; I notice that my FB writing and my blog writing are of similar topics but different forms, and that's interesting, to the point that I've considered limiting myself to 500-word chunks here just to intensify my own writing concentration), is the very material of my liberation.
That's how I understand the ashtanga method, too: maybe just in my vehicle (I refer to body as vehicle, to sort of ease the "my" of it), emotional negativity manifests in muscles and fascia. When I'm uptight, I'm actually tight also. Negativity literally hurts me in practice, because it manifests in annamaya kosha. This is a gift, because as I move, and particularly as those things give way (and my mind gives way, in a fashion), a degree of liberation occurs through bending and through what is typically surrender, but a surrender that is ever forced on me (I do not seem able to voluntarily surrender; it has to be done through action, I sort of "force" surrender on my ego/identity/self by doing things it doesn't want to do).
So my idea is that ashtanga vinyasa can liberate me from my shit, BY my shit.
There is no escape there, nothing is ducked or avoided. But this isn't the same as "the only way out is through," that pithy nugget (did you think I would let one slip past? Seriously?) because to me that nugget implies that one GOES there, whereas since my shit is painful, the last thing I want to do is march full-face into it. There is a level of self-deception: I keep practicing ashtanga vinyasa because I think, every practice, that I will discover my wonderful full powers, my limitlessness, and I keep discovering my limits, I keep having tightness or pain or emotional agony or whatever, and now and then, I don't, but in those practices, I have shallower concentration (with rare exceptions where I seem to "magically" be able to focus on the breath or such). Pain is concentration, in my vehicle.
It's not far from there to say that pain is the way to moksha, not seeking pain, but experiencing it. Experiencing the pain that's already there, the pain of the self, the pain of the established ideas and constructions and histories and cellular presence of cultural assumptions and what Matthew called "centuries of karma."
One does not "go through" that, in an elective change-agent way. Matthew has been big on NOT being a change agent. Put simply, the ego cannot change itself, because it doesn't want to, that is its nature. As Matthew put it yesterday, we think we are MANIFEST and really, we are MANIFESTING. Those blipping electrons of quantum physics, or that spaciousness and shunyata (emptiness) that is form.
And so, of course. Of course.
Practice consistently shows me who I am not, what I am not. I go in thinking, full power, Godhead, and I don't get that. But I get pain instead, limitation, granthi, knots, negativity, ego, whatever, but I don't land there forever either, there is ALCHEMY in that pain, the confrontation with pain. Pain eases, postures re-approach (Pasasana, for example, today; we'll see), and as pain eases, self eases, self slips away, only to be reasserted later, where more alchemy can be committed.
If you have shit, if you have "the mess," you have the material of your liberation. Congratulations, you're incarnate.